Chicago Suburban Family


Hands-On Activity for Child Development

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Sponsored by: Shepherd’s Flock Child Care & Preschool and Shepherd’s Flock Child Care & Preschool (See below)

Children’s unstructured playtime is beneficial beyond simply keeping them occupied. In fact, an extensive body of research confirms that spontaneous play is extremely beneficial for healthy child development. The skills children learn on their own during free play are essential building blocks of their intellectual skill set, emotional wellbeing and mental health.


Seemingly basic activities such as building a block tower, seeing what sinks and floats in water, or tinkering with paper and tape to craft a paper airplane all offer children the opportunity to become eager and competent learners. Such simple hands-on activities hone vital skills, including focusing on a chosen topic (a critical skill if lacking, often misdiagnosed as ADD), problem-solving and planning next steps, developing a strategy, estimating and anticipating results, reevaluating assumptions and learning without fear of making mistakes.

Children’s playful approaches to learning harbor abilities that contribute to a successful school experience and adult life. Most of all, hands-on learning offers children opportunities to practice their innate ability to experience that optimal state of learning, called “flow.” Achieving a flow state involves entering a deep, relaxed and focused engagement with their hands-on activity. In flow, they shape each next step as it spontaneously unfolds. In this state, children (and adults, too) stretch their abilities at a pace that aligns with their own intuition. By independently calling the shots for each step, learning becomes a personal and fulfilling activity that makes them more astute and resourceful, shaping their identity as lifelong, competent learners.

Children’s brains are wired for playing and learning in flow. What’s more, everything learned in flow remains in a child’s long-term memory. It becomes a reference point that helps with all abstract thinking and theoretical investigations, and allows for the development of increasingly complex hands-on skills and coordination.

Fundamental lessons imparted in preschool and elementary school can be taught with hands-on learning materials in playful ways. For example, math taught using a traditional approach with rote memorization of isolated, abstract concepts often leaves students baffled. Math seems to have nothing to do with children’s vibrant and colorful reality. But when children learn mathematical concepts using practical experiences, such as working out fractions by slicing a pizza or an apple into halves, quarters and eighths, they develop deep, authentic understanding of the concept. Later, when they solve fraction problems on paper, math becomes what it’s meant to be: a language for what they know firsthand.

Now, during the COVID-19 pandemic, many parents are forced to support and educate their children at home. The suggestions below will ease some of the pressure to educate children in traditional ways and will reduce tensions between parent and child. Know that it’s okay on some days to let go of a structured curriculum and screen-based or teacher-guided lessons.

By softening your teaching approach and inviting free spontaneous play and hands-on learning, you allow your child’s innate learning skills to surface. Spontaneous hands-on play will empower children in the long run. They will discover how to learn independently and to practice learning in a flow state.

To strengthen their self-motivation, self-discipline and innate learning skills, prepare hands-on learning spaces where your children can be in command of their activities.

Here are some suggestions:

  1. Prepare a worktable. Place a child-sized table and chair in a central spot in your home (preferably close to where you work, as children like to be near a parent). Provide a number of crafts materials — paper in various colors and shapes, tape, childproof scissors, crayons, thread, buttons, bottle caps, stickers, and other supplies — in small boxes and trays. You can offer some examples of creations to make from books or magazines, or make something together initially with your child, such as a paper roll pencil holder or a cork and cardboard ship. Then, let your child take the lead and create at the table. If a little encouragement is needed, offer suggestions: “Can you make something that moves in the wind?” or “Can you make a gift for grandma?”
  2. Provide a simple water play space indoors or outdoors. You can purchase a water play table, or put one or two big buckets side by side — either on a plastic sheet, in the bathtub or shower, or outdoors in the yard. Add some measuring containers, funnels, tubes, watercolors, and objects that sink and float, and let your child experiment.
  3. Offer a cozy area for pretend play. Create spaces where children can pretend and line it with puppets, stuffed animals, dolls, dollhouses, toy cars, and the like. Provide accessories that let them act out scenes from a movie, a visit to the doctor’s office or a playground. Pretend scenarios help children process what they experience, see on the screen, dream or imagine. Children make sense of the world and reduce anxiety by placing their experiences into a personal context during their free play.

As you prepare hands-on play and learning places, make sure to set your child up for success and independence by adding everything that might be needed for an activity, including towels, a water bottle and snacks.

Once your child grows accustomed to playing independently, you can let go of being a constant entertainer or teacher. This, in turn, allows you more independence and reduces tension in the home. You may also be surprised by your child’s ingenuity, creativity and rich imagination.

Carmen Viktoria Gamper has worked internationally as an educator, advisor, coach and speaker for child-centered education. As founder of the New Learning Culture program, she supports parents, homeschooling families and schools in safely offering child-directed, flow-rich learning environments. Her new book is: Flow to Learn: A 52-Week Parent’s Guide to Recognize and Support Your Child’s Flow State – the Optimal Condition for Learning (New Learning Culture Publishing, March 27, 2020). Learn more at

By Carmen Viktoria Gamper

Education Resources

Shepherd’s Flock
Child Care & Preschool
Shepherd’s Flock is a newly remodeled Intergenerational Christian Child Care Center located on the campus of Lutheran Home.  The center holds a Silver Circle of Quality through Excelerate Illinois which shows we are committed to quality improvement and excellence in education.  We have several openings in our toddler and infant rooms.  For more information or to schedule a tour please contact the Director, Jen Soukup at 847-368-7391 or our email at

Autism Behavior & Childhood Services
(ABC Services)

ABC Services was founded with the belief that every child, regardless of their needs, can reach and exceed their maximum potential. We offer ABA Therapy in home or remotely, Social groups, School Readiness Program and Remote Learning supports.  ABCS is offering a FALL & WINTER Social Skills focused CAMP on Saturday Mornings starting in September and December. We are in-network with BCBS PPO, Optum/ United, Cigna, Magellian, and Aetna. Cook, DuPage, and Will counties, we provide services in the safety of your home. Contact us 312-420-2093, or 312-237-0262.  Email  Visit

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